Do the Aztecs run on first down too much? Well,,,,,

Juwan looks for daylight on another zero-yard gain, probably. via GoAztecs.com

Due to extremely unfortunate employment-related circumstances, I was not at the Rose Bowl to witness the San Diego State football Aztecs’ historic first win over UCLA. Nor was I even able to watch the game, despite the vast reach of the mighty Pac-12 Networks. Therefore, ergo, I only caught updates of the proceedings via the interwebs and radio play-by-play.

As the game progressed in the 2nd half, Uncle Teddy, in his usual….distinctive manner, effusively complained that the Aztecs continually and predictably ran the ball on first down.

But did they really? Is Coach Horton’s spread offense still Ground Jeff? To drill into this crucial issue, I did what any extremely healthy-minded person would do: Collate all the Aztecs’ first-down play calls.

Here is every SDSU first-down play result vs UCLA, with short analysis to follow.

Q1
1st possession
BYRD, Jordan rush for 3 yards to the SDSU 28
(drive result: Punt)

2nd possession
AGNEW, Ryan rush for 2 yards to the SDSU 27
BYRD, Jordan rush for 2 yards to the SDSU 41
BYRD, Jordan rush for 6 yards to the UCLA 44
AGNEW, Ryan pass complete to SMITH, Kobe for 19 yards to the UCLA 20
AGNEW, Ryan rush for 6 yards to the UCLA 14
(1st and Goal) BELL, Chance rush for loss of 2 yards to the UCLA 5
(1st and Goal after UCLA penalty) JASMIN, Chase rush for 1 yard to the UCLA 2
(drive result: JASMIN rush TD on next play)

3rd possession (after D. JOHNSON forced fumble)
BYRD, Jordan rush for 1 yard to the SDSU 49
BYRD, Jordan rush for 1 yard to the UCLA 30
(drive result: 43 yd Field Goal)

Q2
4th possession
AGNEW, Ryan pass complete to SMITH, Kobe for 23 yards to the SDSU 43
BELL, Chance rush for no gain to the SDSU 43
(drive result: Punt)

5th possession
WASHINGTON, J. rush for no gain to the 50
AGNEW, Ryan sacked for loss of 11 yards to the UCLA 42
(drive result: Missed FG)

6th possession
AGNEW, Ryan rush for no gain to the SDSU 27
AGNEW, Ryan rush for 1 yard to the SDSU 34
AGNEW, Ryan pass complete to KOTHE, Elijah for 7 yards to the UCLA 39
(drive result: Punt)

7th possession
Team rush for loss of 1 yard to the SDSU 22
AGNEW, Ryan pass incomplete to SMITH, Kobe
(drive result: End of half)

Q3
8th possession (after TEZINO sack-forced fumble)
BYRD, Jordan rush for 2 yards to the UCLA 34
(drive result: Touchdown pass to SMITH on next play)

9th possession
AGNEW, Ryan pass complete to SMITH, Kobe for 13 yards to the SDSU 38
WASHINGTON, J. rush for 2 yards to the SDSU 40
(drive result: Punt)

10th possession (4:41 left in Q3)
WASHINGTON, J. rush for 1 yard to the SDSU 29
WASHINGTON, J. rush for loss of 2 yards to the SDSU 46
WASHINGTON, J. rush for loss of 1 yard to the UCLA 34
WASHINGTON, J. rush for 5 yards to the UCLA 14
(drive result: 31 yd Field Goal) SDSU leads 20-14, 0:21 left in Q3.

Q4
11th possession
WASHINGTON, J. rush for 3 yards to the SDSU 30
BYRD, Jordan rush for loss of 1 yard to the SDSU 44
WASHINGTON, J. rush for loss of 2 yards to the UCLA 46
WASHINGTON, J. rush for no gain to the UCLA 19
WASHINGTON, J. rush for no gain to the UCLA 12
(drive result: 25 yd Field Goal) SDSU leads 23-14, 5:29 left in the game.

12th possession (after TEZINO stop on 4th and 1)
WASHINGTON, J. rush for 3 yards to the UCLA 43
(drive result: Punt)

13th possession (after TEZINO tackle for loss on 4th and 1)
WASHINGTON, J. rush for 9 yards to the UCLA 19
Team rush for loss of 1 yard (kneel down) to the UCLA 17
(drive result: END OF GAME)

What does the data tell us? It says that on first downs, the Aztecs ran the ball 25* times and passed (or attempted to) six times. Only one of those attempts came in the second half. (*subtracting the first-half “team rush” for -1, assuming it was an aborted play, and the kneel-down in the Victory formation.)

The sequence that may have driven Teddy over the brink was the 11th possession. On the 10th possession, Horton called Juwan Washington’s number on first down for rushes of 1, -2, -1, and 5 yards. That drive ate up 4:20 (yeah buddy) and ended with a Matt Araiza field goal, giving the Aztecs a 20-14 lead at the end of the third quarter.

After the SDSU defense forced the Bruins to punt, Coach Horton dialed up another grip of run calls on SDSU’s 11th possession, gaining a grand total of zero yards on five first-down carries. But Agnew bailed out those bad rushes with passes to Kobe Smith for 15 yards, another Smith reception for 12, a pass to Juwan for 9, a third-down pass to Jesse Matthews for 18, and an incomplete pass to Matthews that drew a penalty for 7 yards. Araiza nailed another field goal and the drive took 6:54 off the clock, leaving UCLA down 23-14 with just 5:29 left in the game.

Maybe Ted is right, and a few more of those first downs should be pass attempts to keep the defense honest. In explaining his approach to the spread offense before the season, Rocky Long said the Aztecs would run when a defense played off the ball, and pass when defenses stacked against the run. Of course he added the caveat that, “We’re still gonna run the ball,” and they did on first down seemingly regardless of how UCLA lined up.

Arguably the more questionable choice was running Juwan Washington on a gimpy ankle in the second half. Washington had a net 41 yards on 20 carries (2.05 ypc). Juwan’s a gamer but, jeez Louise. Byrd didn’t fare any better, with 19 yards on 10 carries. They did both have productive touches in the passing game, gaining 34 and 32 yards respectively on four receptions each.

Rock would tell you the bad rushing numbers are because the offensive line isn’t blocking well. Still, those paltry first-down runs kept the clock running and put the Aztecs in position for a true Signature Win at the Rose Bowl. So maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason.

Author: lemonverbena

Californian/Washingtonian, co-editor of Kabeer Thirty.

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